The topics for the "unconference" of Transparency Camp 2012 really say it all, don't they? Sessions on Best Practices on Creating a Compelling Data Visualization; Political Advertising; How can sites like data.gov better support developers; Brainstorm with Sunlight Foundation about Our New International Program; OpenGov ROI Brainstorm; New Medium Needs New Calculation for Opendata Business Case; Open Data with Public Records; Wordplay: Automated Text Analysis of Parliamentary and Legislative Depaids; Political Ad Watch; Local Version of Scraper-Wiki Library; Battledecks and Other Games.
All introspective and "about the tech" -- nothing else. So where's the closing of Guantanamo? Keystone? Drones? Fast and Furious? ObamaCare at the Supreme Court? Green Jobs? The aps just aren't related to real life, but are about supporting the burgeoning New Class of Technologists itself. Photo by Bytemarks.
I've been critical of the whole gov 2.0 and "open data" and "open government" movement since it was born, and in particular when I joined Twitter in 2007, I would ask each and every guru hanging out his shingle for gov 2.0 and giggling about how he was in the "goverati" and going to expensive tech conferences what on earth he was doing because it was all so fake. Amanda Chapel, the pseudonymous former Edelman media relations executive, was particularly witty about these sorts on her Twitter feed. They would always get angry about being asked to account for themselves -- they thought openness and disruption was for other people they didn't like, in governments, or non-IT corporations. That's why I've always found this movement suspect: "Your information wants to be free, mine is available for a consulting fee."
I've been particularly critical of Tim O'Reilly because he is the guru-leader of much of it, with a vast and well-financed network which intertwinese with the TED cult/network as well. The tech@state meetings really set my teeth on edge and I really scored them.
And also of Personal Democracy Forum which has hustled these notions of open government in particular as a way of fast-tracking their own political efforts to get the socialist democrats into power. And they're still doing this, although as I noted, they seem to be getting more content-free and shedding WikiLeaks and OWS as too radical even for them (although they hung out on panels with them before that). Look, they want to get elected. Personal Democracy Forum and Tech President are two sides of the same coin. When they say (counter) culture instead of counterculture, they aren't kidding. The point is just to get in power -- to do that they won't challenge those at the very top.
Now today, Evgeny Morozov, the Silicon Valley sourpuss-in-residence, takes on Alex Howard, the O'Reilly lobbyist in DC. Only he calls himself a journalist. Or at least Morozov takes him for one, and questions why he thinks it's ok for a journalist to sit on a panel about open government policy in Canada.
Morozov is asking some of the right questions, but of course, it's from that strange Soviet Central Committee sort of politics of his, where he imagines an enlightened avant-garde of right-thinkers who have been conditioned with things like politically-correct searches in Google to weed out conspiracy web pages, and who are taught to admire Angela Davis, and who will sit in something like the Soviet Academy of Sciences collegium or even the Central Committee, and decide what reasonable restrictions should be put on Apple. (I am not exaggerating. Read everyone one of his long posts carefully, and you will find exactly these things I've just mentioned).
Morozov is always trashing any US government improvement model because he seems to aspire to the Leninist "the worse, the better" approach re: America.
But like some (but not all) of his critique of Jarvis, his critique of @digiphile (Alex Howard) is correct as well. The conflict of interest isn't with journalism, however, because I don't know if you can really call a tweeting writer for a big software publications and conference corporation "a journalist". The point is more that as an evangelist of gov 2.0, he is skewed and is only perpetuating the madness in Canada.
Along comes the Canadian blogger Whimsley who is critical of Big IT in ways I am at times, and in this case takes on all the bluff of the open government gang. As he points out, the conservative Harper government is among the most closed in memory, yet it starts this goofy program on anodyne and not real subjects. (Although you will not catch me applauding Naomi Klein's critique of the Harper government on certain issues related to Israel -- they did the right thing by boycotting Durban II, for example). But they are very secretive on a number of topics as Whimsley points out.
It's like the Obama Administration. You can't spit in Washington without hitting a gov 2.0 project, yet we don't know about the CIA's drone programs or how many drones they have out there or how many people they've killed, and of these, how many are civilians and how many are militants.
And as I point out in my comment to Whimsley -- we never learn about the budgets for gov 2.0 itself, the salaries of the players, the consulting fees, the trips. Did Alex Howard get a consulting fee, or just travel expenses to go sit on the panel in Canada? A gig which he got after schmoozing with a minister on another trip.
Lobbying is legal. But the gov 2.0 prissies always make it seem as if it is not, and they will pry open the secrets. Do start with yourselves, guys.
Whimsley's take is different than mine, while rooted in the same suspicion of Big IT corporations that pretend they are sanitized and exempt from the concerns we have about all big corporations like BP. He thinks the problem is the commingling of commerce and government. That disturbs me less -- if there is openness about it (and there isn't) and we understand what we're getting out of it and our elected representatives are part of regulating it.
But when we have big boondoggles of "public private partnerships" like "Start Up America" -- are a lot of geeks and consultants getting paid, and a few pork projects getting some padding, or is it really helping the economy? Who decides?
I had a Twitfight last with Alex Howard actually on Google+. There, he kept hawking this culty movement called Participatory Budgeting which of course has websites and dbases and aps to distract it from it's old-fashioned Marxist-style politics. It didn't sound good, as it was the usual third-worldist socialist rant against the man disguised as civic undertaking. That's the worse. In the examples he cited, it really was suspect because it had the cult Working Families in New York involved in it -- and no other parties or groups. So it appeared to be a way of them just showing up at city council budget hearings and grabbing their piece of it, under the guise of "civic participation". It wasn't really real civic participation with real involvement of all kinds of people -- which takes time to build, frankly. And PS we have already what we call "elected representives" to conduct this business -- and it's elections and voting that in fact these people want to undermine in favour of their cultic "direct voting" which is more like Lenin taking over the Petrograd Soviet than not.
Howard refused to concede that a party that isn't in power and wasn't elected, even if it cunning endorses the same candidates, showing up at budget meetings to bang on the elected representatives who were, in the guise of "civic participation", is indeed something that can be fairly criticized. Who are these guys? I wasn't one/tenth as blunt as Morozov to him on Google+ -- Morozov is scathing. Yet he doesn't block him and even begins to worry about whether he should not have sat on the panel. He invites comments by comments post as well as closed email, however so it's a pose.
People hate it when I compare all this to Bolshevism, but they just haven't read history and are repeating it. Lenin undermined institutions like the parliament and then the soviets by showing up *alongside* them and not really democratically participating in them, and pressuring them with faction fights, sectarianism, and debates that wore people out until "the guard is tired". Then it becomes the tyranny of who shows up, and Smolny. No thanks! OWS General Assembly is exactly the same kind of thing.
The open data movement isn't just a commercial hustle (althought it may take that form too), it's an ideological takeover. It's about the betterworldism that these guys want to install. And that is really not the lovely inclusive transparent thing they claim.
I kept asking questions about this and Alex Howard deleted my posts and blocked me on Google+, so that -- in that eerie Google+ system -- the posts ceased to exist, and he ceased to exist in my view. He didn't block me on Twitter, but that may have been an oversight.
The power of these people to use the very tools they code with their "lovely" features to block and suppress debate about their culty worldviews is of course the most suspect thing about them.
The usual thin-skinned fanboyz show up at Whimsley's blog, I know them well. The real question is whether he is going to get the momentum he needs beyond just a blow-off of these pompous "open gov" types, or whether he will start to get a movement of his own to get them called to account.